The trade deadline looms, leaving some things uncertain, but for the most part we are getting to the part of the season where we know what we know what we know: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that your top ranked goalie just has not come out of his funk (Pekka Rinne, anyone?); or that the offensive juggernaut your goalie plays for just can’t buy a goal (Hello, Ben Bishop!). There are still surprises to watch out for, especially for those in keeper leagues, so keep an eye on the middle tiers if you’re looking to upgrade your goaltending situation. The top tier are likely untouchable; and for other reasons entirely, so are the bottom tier.
The Elite, the best of the best. Top gun. You could always argue for more to be added here, but what sets these chosen few apart? Consistency, plain and simple. We’re not throwing darts here, folks. Though apparently we are mixing metaphors.
- Braden Holtby (Philip Grubauer), Capitals – Holtby is in a prime situation to succeed, and he hasn’t disappointed. You could point to a couple of lousy starts, but I’d rather point out that since the new year, he’s run up an 11-1-2 record.
- Henrik Lundqvist (Antti Raanta), Rangers – Lundqvist is (still) Exhibit A when it comes to consistency and why it can be worth it to overspend to own one of these guys. He’s had a few questionable starts this year, and though he may not catch Holtby in the Wins department, Lundqvist is averaging a superior .922 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.
- Marc-Andre Fleury (Jeff Zatkoff) – Fleury has alternated wins and losses recently, but his rate stats are stellar. Man, if only this team had a couple of guys who can score, eh?
- Jonathan Quick (Jhonas Enroth), Kings – Quick is teetering on the edge of this category, but gets the benefit of the doubt for now. After returning from a lower body injury (and prior to that, a sub-par 10-game stretch in which he was saving fewer than 90 percent of his shots against). He’s just had one game since his return, but it was against the Caps, and was a narrow 2-1 loss in which the winning goal was challenged. Let’s see how he does before doing something rash, like demoting him from this list.
- Petr Mrazek (Jimmy Howard), Red Wings – Mrazek is the biggest riser on this list, and some might have argued that he belonged here sooner. He’s been playing well for some time now, and is finally the uncontested starter. You don’t get to be in the 1% until you’ve got the #1 role to yourself.
- Cory Schneider (Keith Kinkaid), Devils – I just know I’m gonna get some flack for this. “Crawford and Luongo don’t make the list but Schneider does?”. Well, Schneider is Mr. Consistent. He’s the guy that makes me think twice about benching my forwards who play against him. Yeah, he’s so good that he’s gotten into my fantasy head.
“What’re you guys doing?”
“Puttin’ on the foil!”
“Yeah, you want some?”
Like the Hanson Brothers, it’s pretty simple: You want these guys on your side. They will consistently contribute in all categories and be the foundation of your team. With a couple of these goalies on your roster, you’ll be singing Mmmbop! all the way to the rink.
- Corey Crawford (Scott Darling), Black Hawks – If Crawford only played home games, he would be in a tier all his own. But alas, he doesn’t, and there’s the rub. Oh, come on – how much difference could it make, you ask? Howzabout this: 1.75 GAA at home vs. 2.78 away. I’d still love to have him on my team, but starting him on the road is like starting the best knuckleballer in baseball. You’re still rolling the dice every time.
- Roberto Luongo (Al Montoya), Panthers – Luongo’s agent and manager keep pushing for me to elevate him to the next tier, but I just can’t do it. He’s got a comparable record and rate stats with Lundqvist, but the confidence vote is not as high at this exact moment. He’s currently just had an injury scare and prior to that had two horrendous starts. If he shakes that off, then yeah, bump him up, but I’d keep a close watch right now to make sure he doesn’t miss any significant time.
- Thomas Greiss-Jaroslav Halak, Islanders – The astute reader will note that Greiss is first in the pecking order, which is a recent development. He’s played well while Halak has played poorly, which has created a full blown controversy on Long Island. If you’ve got one of these guys on your roster, keep a close watch on the situation to see if Greiss continues his hold on the job.
- Martin Jones (Alex Stalock), Sharks – At the beginning of the season you could have asked me who Martin Jones was and I would have guessed something like, “The last living member of Air Supply?”. Now he’s in the midst of an 11-2-1 streak and is indeed worthy of being The One That You Love (you saw where I was going with that, right?).
- Ben Bishop (Andrei Vasilevsky), Lightning – The best comparison for Bishop is Cory Schneider. The main difference being that Schneder’s heroics have been enough to get his team a few extra wins despite the offensive woes. Meanwhile, Bishop continues to wait patiently for the the Bolts to light things up on the scoresheet. Until they can give him some help in the Wins dept., Bishop will remain just below the elite.
- Brian Elliott (Jordan Binnington-Jake Allen), Blues – Allen tore something in his knee, and meanwhile Elliot is simply on a tear, with a 10-3-3 record over 15 consecutive starts. Allen will be back to muddle the situation eventually, but the timetable is unclear.
Sure, there might be a decent grab in here, depending on the stats your league uses, or if they’re on a particular roll. Most of the guys in this tier have graduated from the Grant Fuhr School of Hard Knocks Goaltending. That is: They’re good enough to shut the door in a close game and maybe get you the win. It’s just too bad the score is already 7-7. Other goalies in this category fit into the secret, invisible ‘Better Than You’d Think’ category, but their situation is “complicated” and currently holds them back.
- Tuukka Rask (Jonas Gustavsson) – Tukka’s great. And then he’s not. And then he is. And then….
- Joonas Korpisalo (Anton Forsberg-Sergei Bobrovsky–Curtis McIlhenney), Blue Jackets –Korpisalo has been a pleasant surprise in place of injured starter Bobrovsky. Here’s a sneaky little secret that I’m burying in the middle of this column: in his last 10 games, Korpisalo has quietly put up elite numbers (6-1-3, .935, 2.42). Worth a flier? You betcha.
- Pekka Rinne (Carter Hutton), Predators – “The way he’s been playing lately, I feel a little dirty for allowing him in this tier at all.” I don’t often quote myself, but I’m sorry, it has indeed come to that. That quote was referring to him being in the tier above this one. He just can’t get right this year, and meanwhile Carter Hutton (who sounds more like an American Idol winner than a starting goaltender) has been playing exceptionally well in relief, including a recent shutout against the Panthers. Rinne will keep the job, there’s no actual doubt here. But the question of whether his play will improve is clearly in doubt at this stage of the season. Oh, how the mighty have become mediocre. Or, however that saying goes.
- Ondrej Pavelec (Connor Hellebuyck–Michael Hutchinson), Jets – I hate to say I told you so (but I did), but Pavelec is back and has instantly been given back the starting job while Wunderkind Connor Hellebuyck has been sent down. I think that, best case scenario, someone gets traded and they bring back Hellboy almost before his float plane lands on Lake Winnipeg, where the Manitoba Moose presumably play in their outdoor rink. (Because really, Winnipeg couldn’t hold on to the Jets, and now they have room for TWO teams?).
- John Gibson (Fredrik Andersen) Ducks – I’m not sure it’s fair to anoint Gibson the full starter tag here, but only because history dictates that the Ducks have no idea which guy they want as their starter. And also, that both are pretty good when they are on their game. Gibson right now is on a roll, but just had a brief injury scare. So who knows. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ducks bring Guy Hebert out of retirement, along with the old jersey, just for kicks.
- Antti Niemi–Kari Lehtonen, Stars – The rumour is that Niemi is the starter, but it’s hard to get too excited about either of these guys as long as the timeshare continues.
- Devan Dubnyk (Darcy Kuemper/Niklas Backstrom) – Dubnyk has just endured a losing streak from hell. And yet, his overall numbers are still pretty impressive, considering the lack of offense from his team. He got an ugly win against the Flames recently, so hopefully he’s coming out of the tailspin.
- Craig Anderson (Andrew Hammond), Senators – Anderson has been playing quite well recently, with a .952 save percentage in his last five games. Let’s see if it’s the start of something. Meanwhile, Hammond hasn’t won since January 4th, so there’s no threat of him eating into Anderson’s playing time anytime soon.
- Robin Lehner (Chad Johnson), Sabres – With the return of Lehner, this tandem gets a bump up, from out of the cellar. This may be cause for celebration in Buffalo, but not necessarily for you. Wins are scarce in Sabre-land, and while Lehner is an intriguing keeper prospect – and playing quite well, I should add — I would not count on him to lead your fantasy team to the promised land this season.
- Steve Mason (Michal Neuvirth), Flyers – Mason has worked his way out of the bottom category with surprisingly decent play of late, but still plays for a team that doesn’t provide enough support to put him any higher.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t save” (said no one, ever.)
These are some bad dudes, you don’t want to touch them. And I don’t mean ‘bad’ in a good way. I mean, ‘baaad’. Now that just sounds like a sheep when you read it out loud, doesn’t it? And who wants a sheep for a goaltender?
- Ryan Miller (Jacob Markstrom), Canucks – Miller has actually played respectably in the past month or so, but with very little to show for it in the wins colums. Expect that trend to continue.
- Cam Ward (Eddie Lack), Hurricanes – Ward played exceptionally well… for three games. He’s had some good starts recently, which is a nice tease, but expect the unexpected with Ward, which then actually becomes the expected. Oh boy, I’ve even confused myself now.
- Louis Domingue (Anders Lindback), Coyotes – Domingue was an intriguing callup, and played well out of the gates. But now? I wouldn’t go there. I just wouldn’t.
- Jonas Hiller (Joni Ortio), Flames – Hiller has had some good starts lately, but just doesn’t seem to have the stamina to keep it up anymore. Ortio has not fared much better. Karri Ramo, if you haven’t heard, is done for the season. This is ugly and looks like it could get uglier, folks.
- Semyon Varlamov (Calvin Pickard), Avalanche – Is anyone counting how many former Vezina winners are on this list? Varlamov always gives the Avs a chance to win, but then he does stuff like let in his only two shots against the Sabres. He’s an enigma, wrapped in—how’s that go? I don’t know. Maybe he’s more like, a scallop, wrapped in bacon. Ah, I’m just getting hungry now, excuse the digression.
- Cam Talbot (Anders Nilsson), Oilers –The big news here is that Connor McDavid is now providing offense for the Oilers again. In other news, McDavid still doesn’t play goal, and I wouldn’t touch either of these guys right now.
- James Reimer (Jonathan Bernier), Leafs – Oh, they each tease with a spectacular game here and there, but don’t be fooled. You can trust these guys exactly as far as you can throw them. That would be a weird thing to do, but you know, If they’d let you do something like that.
- Ben Scrivens (Mike Condon) , Canadiens – Scrivens has shown some promise. But remember when we were saying the same about Condon? There may be some sneaky value to be had here, especially if the rumours are true and Carey Price is in fact done for the season. But the smarter play is to steer clear from this situation entirely.
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